I’ll admit, for an animation fan I’m a bit more picky and unforgiving than most. There are many shortcuts, cliches, tropes, and stereotypes that drive me crazy when I see them used again and again. Yes, my list of animation pet peeves is long. And Rio 2 felt like it hit just about every one of them.

Let’s start of with the good. The animation is bright, beautiful, and colorful — and will completely divert younger ones easily enough. And a storyline between a cockatoo and a frog, voiced perfectly (and hilariously) by Jemaine Clement and Kristin Chenoweth, was easily the highlight of the film.

rio2aBut the rest of the film is entirely frustrating, bordering on insulting. I know a lot of people put a lot of hard work into this film. So let me be clear, most of my problems are story-related. A bad film can still be well produced.

I don’t want to spend much more time with Rio 2 than the hour and a half I was in the theatre. So here are the quick bullet points.

• A cookie cutter story — The whole movie feels like it was written by executives using the least original ideas from every other animated film: let’s give the main characters some kids; let’s flip the setting to the opposite of last time; dad hates daughter’s husband; a suave, crooning old boyfriend from youth horns in; animated animal pop dance numbers; several bodily function jokes; evil businessmen, angelic environmentalists; nature good, not nature bad. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Every little plot point feels old and uninspired.

• Personality disorders — Very much related to the above, how’s this cast for unoriginal: A bumbling dad. A cool mom. Wise-cracking kids. Over-protective father-in-law. Gorgeous ex-boyfriend. Hiphop spouting sidekicks. Slobbering dog. Why not throw in a hooker with a heart of gold, a fat police officer eating a doughnut, and an ugly girl who takes off her glasses and is suddenly beautiful.

• Curious casting — Almost every voice acting choice felt wrong and occasionally maybe even a bit racist. Almost all the main characters with more serious parts are played by (for lack of a better word) “white-sounding” actors, while the sidekicks and goofy characters are voiced by (again, for lack of a better word) “non-white-sounding” actors. Normally I say, get the best person for the job regardless of race. But in this case, the mix between major character and minor character felt very awkward, especially for a film set in South America. It was almost uncomfortable to hear the more “ethnic” voices being used solely for comic relief, not to advance the plot.

rio2b• Song and dance — I get that a big part of the appeal of Rio is the music. But, man, I get so tired of cartoons characters dancing to popular music in just about every animated film made these days!

• Propaganda — I wouldn’t mind filmmakers occasionally proselytizing for their pet cause in movies meant for children if there was some diversity of opinion in Hollywood. But once again we’re given the same old hackneyed antagonist, while the writers try in vain to rescue the word “treehugger” as a cool term to today’s youth. (No, that’s not a joke! It’s actually in the movie several times and even becomes a plot point!)

Rio 2 is the type of film that needs to become an endangered species in Hollywood — a vapid, unoriginal, blandly offensive movie that will appeal only to young children who aren’t familiar with all the cliches and stereotypes. There is hardly anything here adults will enjoy. But if you really can’t think of a better way to entertain your kids for an afternoon… you’re really not trying hard enough.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

Rio 2
Blue Sky Studios
April 11, 2014
121 minutes
Rated PG
directed by Carlos Saldanha